Sitting in fourth place in the AHL’s East Division and 10 points out of first place, the Binghamton Senators again find themselves in a hole after pulling themselves out of a slow start to the 2014-15 season. The main thing Senators head coach Luke Richardson preached to his team before the AHL’s winter break was the need for consistency to the team’s game.
“Consistency has not been there for us this year,” Richardson said following a 3-0 loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on December 20th. “That’s something we have to address, I think maybe just bearing down and executing and that’s part of consistency. We are a fairly young team, a new team and right now we just have to find our new roles.”
One of the aforementioned young players adjusting to pro hockey and finding his role is rookie Ryan Dzingel, the former Ohio State University standout who came right into the AHL last spring and with success, posting seven points (two goals, five assists) in nine regular season games with the Senators at the tail end of last season.
Dzingel, who was a seventh round pick for the Ottawa Senators at the 2011 NHL Draft, was the first player Richardson talked about when asked for a quick assessment of the rookies seven games into the season back in late October, and you’re starting to see why now.
“Lots of speed and skill,” Richardson said of Dzingel after an October 26th game. “We’re trying to get him out there on the power play a bit and get him confidence skating with the puck because he can really do magical things at a high rate of speed. Once he gets comfortable, hopefully he’ll be adding another dimension to our game.”
Dzingel tallied two goals for Binghamton on opening night of the 2014-15 season, but went goal-less for the next nine games as the Senators as a team won just three of their first 11 games to start the season.
“Those are the growing pains you go through as a young player in the league,” Richardson said of Dzingel. “He started out with a bang the first night with two goals, and he’s been snake-bitten a little bit but he’s working, he’s a bright-eyed kid who asks questions and learns so I expect a young guy that has his legs to have a real good second half.”
Dzingel did just that, scoring two goals in a 3-0 Senators win in a rematch against the Penguins on December 26th and adding another goal the next night – an overtime, game-winner to give the Senators a 4-3 win over the Hershey Bears.
“I think everyone played hard first game back,” Dzingel said after his two-goal performance the day after Christmas. “After break it’s usually pretty tough to get the legs going but I think we played really well.”
While the Ohio State Buckeyes football team might have surprised viewers on New Year’s Day in their win over Alabama, Dzingel knew who was going to win when asked his thoughts about his alma mater almost a week prior to the Sugar Bowl.
“Oh, we’re going to win for sure, I know that,” Dzingel said with a laugh. “I talked to Urban Meyer the other day. He said we’re ready to go.”
Dzingel’s coach, Richardson, has also been impressed with his confidence on the ice and what he’s seen from the rookie center of late.
“He showed a lot of confidence with the puck and that’s what he is; he’s a dynamic guy that can really bury pucks in close,” Richardson said. “He’s got great hands. You saw it on the first goal, he froze the goalie in tight. That’s a natural gift. That’s something that coaches really can’t teach anybody. He can really do some fancy things in there.”
“McCormick is a gritty player,” Richardson said. “He’s a straight up-and-down player that can check well, but he’s got a hard shot.
Guptill, acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars over the summer, was just finding his legs and being bounced around the lineup earlier in the season. He’s tallied six points (three goals, three assists) in 21 games this season.
Richardson said Thompson (two goals, four assists in 27 games) is a little older and noticeably more mature in his play on the ice, noting he also played in some AHL games last season like Dzingel.
“The pace that we play, we need four lines rolling,” Richardson said. “We have to find out who can do what and this is the time to do it, sort it out and get better as we go.
“We have to live and learn with the results, but I think we can’t ever accept anything less than we set our goals for. I think the guys had done a pretty good job to battle our way out of a hole earlier in the season and now we’ve kind of fallen back in there. We have a real big challenge in the second half, but they deserved a break, more of a mental break than anything. We’re looking forward to that challenge in the second half.”
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